When Did We Start Thinking of Each Other As Widgets?
Picture it — a young HR manager in her late twenties, with a background in teaching and career counseling, has witnessed her own body relearn to walk after a brain injury she had when she was 8. As a result, she has a tremendous belief in the potential of others to enable themselves and achieve great things.
That young HR manager was me and is me. She inspires what I do today — part of which is talking about expander moments with organizations and how individuals can leverage resilience in moments of uncertainty.
I define an expander moment as:
Expander moment (n) — A moment that prompts growth and expression in fuller understanding. Occurs regularly. Usually unnoticed. Could be daily, monthly, and annually on varying levels of magnitude. Always prompting a widening of our potential.
One of the biggest expander moments in my career occurred when I was this young HR manager. My supervisor was upset about a candidate who had accepted our offer, but then pulled back and decided not to join us. My supervisor blamed me because he thought I should have followed up more in the onboarding process.
I remember this moment vividly because it was the day I became a champion for Talent & People leaders in fast-growing companies. And it was the first day I cried in front of someone at work.
I burst into tears in my supervisor’s office because he told me that I needed to think of our current and potential employees as “widgets” versus people who are empowered to work through onboarding tasks themselves.
That moment was so at odds with my personal values system that it taught me I needed to leave that organization in the actual moment. Years later, through the lens of an expander moment, it is still prompting me to express my true self more fully through my career.
I spoke recently with a company’s leadership team about expander moments and the questions of — “What would it look like if we considered each other capable of more in workplaces?” And, “Instead of treating each other as widgets, what if we treated each other as expanders?
I find that too often, we think of each other as widgets — something that serves a purpose or function. And potentially we even think of ourselves sometimes as widgets. A coach who has led workshops I’ve attended, Isabel Barreto, describes this concept as thinking of ourselves as “human doings” versus “human beings.”
And while it is true that we all have responsibilities in our day-to-day that we must achieve to advance our company’s mission, we aren’t widgets. Each of us has the potential to expand each other and our organizations far more than a widget ever could.
I believe the answer to building better workplaces lies in this discussion of how we view ourselves and others. If we start to expand that view, we will start to expand what we are capable of.